We drove down the road, sleepy round eyed children peeking out the windows and the Full Moon hung giant in the 5am, winter sky. I felt nervous and excited, off to a full day of yoga, learning, and being surrounded by strangers that I knew would become community. The moon followed us down the road to Seattle, slowly slipping away, and giving in to a deep turquoise sky of clouds that welcomed me home, to my rainy city. The full moon has always held possibility to me. Less inhibitions, more freedom, the full moon makes me think that today may be extra magic.
This year the NWYC embraced and embodied the traits it takes to live courageously, from your heart, with truth, compassion and freedom. The slogan was “Courage to live from your heart”. It felt like a more apt message this year than any time before. When I walked into the morning meditation, I could feel the combination of excitement for calm and tools to live courageously, along with the hunger and ache for community, connection, and an ability to find a way to muddle through yoga in this current world climate. Nervous laughter, and solemn nods broke out across the room as we all welcomed the admission of “we all need this so much right now” from Kara Schwandt, who led the meditation. It is so true, we all need community, tools, and a deep breath right now.
Last year my experience was primarily heady. I learned so much about heart and mind yoga connections, food and healing, and freedom. And the quiet voice that said “maybe you want to become a teacher” got loud, and empowered. I was leaving my daughters for the day for the first time, and the day felt rife with self-empowerment in my heart and head.
This year I needed something different. I needed tools, I needed to feel strong. I needed to find ways to connect deeply with my body and heart while feeling so adrift in the world, and so exhausted by it. This year, my workshops were all far more physical, body, and stretched me in an entirely different way. I was nervous coming into a day stacked with 6 hours of yoga, as I am not a teacher, only practice at home, and would categorize myself as a beginner in every way. However, I was met with only amazing teachers who focused on honoring what your body said, reminded all of us that there is nothing more holy about holding a hard pose than there is about dropping into child’s pose, and all so supportive.
I started off the morning with a handstand workshop led by Andreas Fetz (circus and yoga extrodinaire!), I went in excited and nervous. One of my favorite things about the yoga community at the NWYC is how focused on connection, authenticity, and honesty every teacher is. Each workshop I was a part of began with coming together, in close, and introducing ourselves and sharing a bit about why we were there, or what our fears were, or what we hoped to learn. It was a really amazing tool to bring the class together and realize that even the best, most confident yogis there, had goals and fears. We began the handstand class sharing what we hoped to learn, and it was a relief to hear that there were many there who were hopeful to just get up for a moment, who identified as beginners, and we all shared a fear of toppling over!
This class was chalk full of tips, tricks, hard truths, and so many amazing exercises I am adding to my home practice. Andreas was an incredible teacher and so hands on. He walked around spotting, aligning, and really showing all of the ways to make your handstands far more controlled, attainable, and clean. But most of all? He made abundantly clear the amount of effort it really takes to add handstands to your practice. He was impressive to the max and shared so much about his own work to get there. Putting all your weight into your hands takes a different kind of courage. Doing this in front of a room full of strangers is courage in a way that is even harder to push than just a physical boundary.
This workshop took me out of my comfort zone as we spotted for each other and got vulnerable falling all over ourselves along the wall. Also, I left with a really valuable piece of information. You will never leave the wall behind. That no matter how confident you get in your handstands, the wall will always have more to teach you. This was reassuring and important. So many times I think “just get away from the wall!” “try!” but this reminder that the wall can offer you so much growth, and help can be found on the wall, and there is nothing wrong with using it to help you grow.
The next workshop I took was Let the Light In with Jill Knouse, and this class was exactly what I wanted. 25 of us crammed into a tiny room and the heat came on quick. We were pouring sweat as she walked us through asana after asana and we flowed to music that a DJ was mixing as we flowed. It was intense, emotional, and embodied the quote she began the class with…
“The wound is the place where the light enters you.”
She encouraged us to think on the spaces we had wounds, where we were hurt or scarred, and to crack those wide to let the light in. Again, courage. We were asked to take the things in our heart that we might want to ignore, or let scare deep, and instead to move and feel them. Hear those words, and then use them to teach, and grow community. It was an intense class with lots of movement, laughter, and moments where I thought “I can’t keep up with this!”. I left it pouring sweat and feeling invigorated.
The final class I took was one I had looked forward to all day. A Full Moon Mandala practice with Elizabeth Rainey. This workshop was far, far more challenging mentally than I expected. I have an at-home meditation practice but it’s a struggle, and I often can’t get through more than 5-8 minutes before I launch into asanas. I haven’t really embraced how much meditation and chanting are big parts of having a holistic yoga practice. Rainey made a huge point of having a juicy asana practice but, after that, we spend time doing a full mala chanting practice, followed by a full 20+ minute meditation.
While Rainey was talking us through the petals of this mandala practice she said something that will stick with me forever.
“…The Moon is always full.”
She let that hang in the air for a moment. Immediately I was uncomfortable, the moon isn’t always full! This strips my full moon of it’s sacred! But I sat with it. I sat with it throughout our long meditation and my heart felt ridiculously softened. This wasn’t taking anything from the moon, it was giving something bigger to it. And to me. Realizing that any time I look at the moon I have the knowledge that it is full, hit me hard. The moon’s fullness is always there. So is my capability, my big dreams, my goals, and my plans. I can’t alway see them, they don’t always feel as heavy with magic, but their fullness and my ability to achieve them is always full, ripe, and heavy, even when I can’t see its entirety. I can trust the the Moon is Always Full.
Meditation was long and a struggle. That quantity of time sitting in a small room, on the floor with others, was really mentally and physically difficult; However, it’s also exceptionally powerful. When we finished our chanting the silence hung heavy in the air for minutes afterwards, and Rainey has no qualms about allowing us to sit silently in that heaviness.
I left this workshop with a new understanding of how wide and big yoga is beyond just asanas, and with a newfound desire to embrace the uncomfortable in my practice. It’s given me new tools, and a better understanding of the importance of yoga beyond movement.
This was my second year attending the Northwest Yoga Conference and both times I’ve been struck by how well organized, thoughtful, and community driven the whole event was. From all the welcoming volunteers, the accessible and thoughtful teachers, to the amazing amenities. There was a bustling market place jam-packed with vendors who were selling gorgeous wares (from mandala painted cups, hand cut yoga clothing, stellar food and drinks, and every yoga prop I am dreaming of owning), live music playing between workshops and a cafe with lots of tasty whole food options.
The events center was open enough to be able to find a quite space (my family even swung by for a visit during my lunch break!) to take a moment to read, journal, or just breath, away from all the hubbub and energy.
Thank you SO much to the Northwest Yoga Conference for having me, and allowing me in to such an incredibly important space. It is an honor to share about your community and all the work you’ve done to bring yogis together. And a special thank you to Athleta for the cozy outfit to wear for this conference! I was able to move comfortably from meditation, to intense asanas, to a brisk walk in the cool rain.
To see more about my experience at this conference last year, check out this post over on NW Healthy Mama. And thank you!